Greatness = f (small steps, everyday, for a long time)
The path to greatness is: A fanatical discipline to set and achieve the realistic targets, every day, for a very long time.
This is true for excelling in almost all walks of life: Work, sports, meditation and even creativity. Yes, creativity. See what Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has to say:
"I also write out what my daily, weekly, monthly goals are, and every evening I check how I’m doing. And then I just over allocate my time People think that creativity is this free spirit that has no boundaries. No, actually the most creative people in the world schedule their creativity. But if you’re really, really focused, those are the times when the breakthroughs come."
I often see people starting something good and give up early as they don't see the results. The idea is to sustain that effort for a very long time. Hence it's important that we set achievable targets for every day. Plan and conserve our resources for a long haul. Why can't we just run as fast as we can every day?
The answer lies in Jim Collins' work in his book Great by Choice. He talks about Roald Amundsen's Antarctic expedition of 1910–12. He was the first ever to reach the South Pole, on 14 December 1911. One of the important strategies of his was: Walk 20 miles every single day, no matter the weather conditions. On bad days, they had to fight to reach those 20 miles. More importantly, and counter-intuitively, on good days, they had to hold themselves back to not go further. But in doing this, they conserved their energy and could manage their resources a lot better and consistently make progress. Interestingly, the competitors walked as far as they could, exerted all their energy and when critical conditions hit, had none left. This story has sparked the now common notion of “The 20 Mile March”, which is exactly what great companies rely on, says Collins.
Lesson: Fanatical Discipline
A great company is that they have a fanatical discipline. Collin’s gives us the metaphor of the 20 mile march. Starting out on a cross-country journey, the metaphor goes, you’d be much better off walking 20 miles per day consistently than walking much more on the good days and much less on the bad days. In business, the great companies realized that a similar principle applied – that you should do whatever you need to do in order to get results in the down years and resist the urge to grow too wildly in the up years.
A great example of a company that has done the 20-mile march consistently is Southwest Airlines – the celebrated anomaly of the dreaded airline industry. Southwest demanded a profit from its business every single year. For entrepreneurs, this sounds obvious. But in the airline industry, which was losing $13 billion per year, this is a remarkable thought. Even in the months after 9/11, when the industry was in shambles, Southwest was turning record profits. They also excelled at the flip side of the 20-mile march and controlled their growth in the up years. In 1996, for instance, there were over 100 cities who wanted Southwest to open operations there. Instead, they took a methodical approach and expanded to only 4 cities.
Now we appreciate the below better:
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” ― Bill Gates